I am one of a long list of co-authors on a paper that came out in Nature Ecology and Evolution recently, titled “A global phylogeny of butterflies reveals their evolutionary history, ancestral hosts and biogeographic origins”. This is the most recent result of the ButterflyNet project, which began while I was a postdoc in the Kawahara and Guralnick labs at the Florida Museum of Natural History. It is incredibly global in its collaborative scope, not just in terms of data collection, but also in analysis and interpretation. The project’s modest goal was to generate the largest butterfly phylogeny to date, and assemble a massive database of morphological, ecological, and geographic information to pair it with.
The phylogeny presented in the recently-published paper represents 92% of all butterfly genera and is based on 391 genes; it provided the backbone for several comparative phylogenetic analyses, that focused on biogeographic and host-plant interaction reconstructions, which was largely where my contribution fit in. Honestly, I felt a bit spoiled being able to swan in after the hard work of data collection to consult on the analyses. Based on the available data, it appears butterflies originated in the Americas and first fed on plants in the family Fabaceae. However, the true message of the paper could just as easily be “we’ve just scratched the surface here, there is so much more to do!!”, as there are a lot more data that have been collected and not yet analyzed. Look forward to continuing downstream papers in the coming years!
Here is the citation: Kawahara, A.Y., Storer, C., Carvalho, A.P.S. et al. A global phylogeny of butterflies reveals their evolutionary history, ancestral hosts and biogeographic origins. Nat Ecol Evol (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-023-02041-9
And here's reporting on the paper by National Public Radio in the US!
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